Chaplain Jabez Mercer Brittain
38th Georgia Regiment
By Dr. H. Rondel Rumburg
A man who would become a greatly used instrument of God was born near Lexington, Georgia in Oglethorpe County on May 4th, 1842. He was the youngest child of Henry and Louisa Brittain. His grandparents came from Virginia in 1797 to settle in Oglethorpe County. Henry Brittain fought in the Indian War of 1814 under General Floyd, and he was for many years clerk of the Court of Ordinary for his county. Louisa his mother was a pious lady devoted to the rearing of her family.
J.M. Brittain was prepared for college by Professor T.B. Moss who was a very distinguished educator in Lexington, GA at the Meson Academy. During his formative years it pleased the Lord to give Brittain a new heart. He made a profession of faith in Christ as Lord and Saviour in 1857 and was baptized by Dr. P.H. Mell into the Antioch Baptist Church of Oglethorpe County. After this preparation by Professor Moss, Brittain entered Franklin College (now the University of Georgia) in 1859 and graduated in 1861 when the Southland was threatened by invasion from the North.
Brittain, along with his graduating class at Franklin, enlisted in the 38th Georgia Voluntary Infantry (Tom Cobb Infantry). This was in September of 1861. This Georgia unit was initially sent to Savannah, and then they became part of the Army of Northern Virginia in Lawton’s Brigade, Stonewall Jackson’s Division. Enlisting as 1st Sergeant J.M. rapidly moved up in rank and was elected 2nd Lieutenant (4-22-1862) and then 1st Lieutenant (6-14-1863). Sandwiched between that time he served a term as enrolling officer in the Georgia Sixth Congressional District in 1862. The 38th Georgia as soon as they reached Fredericksburg, VA entered that historical battle. Then the unit made its presence known and was in numerous battles to follow.
Having received a call from the Lord to preach J.M. Brittain was ordained to the gospel ministry in the fall of 1863 in the Lexington Baptist Church where he now had his membership. He had moved his church letter from Antioch Baptist Church. Brittain had been licensed by the Lexington church. On furlough he returned to the Lexington Baptist Church which had called for his ordination. The ordination council was made up of N.M. Crawford, B.M. Callaway, James N. Coile and L.R.L. Jennings. He had been appointed as chaplain on June 16th, 1863. Brittain had an active part in the great revival which the Lord brought to the Army of Northern Virginia. He baptized many who had come to Christ in the Confederate forces. His unit participated in many major battles. He was mustered out in August 1864, and returned home to assume responsibility for the family farm because his father was paralyzed. There he engaged in farming for three years; then he taught in educational institutions in Dalton, Acworth and Conyers, GA. Teaching and pastoring were the primary labors in which he was engaged in his service for the Lord.
J.M. Brittain pastored Baptist churches in Whitfield, Gordon, Bartow, Rockdale and Newton Counties. He was the moderator of the Stone Mountain Association. His ministry was said to have been blessed with frequent revivals in the churches he served. Brittain was a contributing editor of The Christian Index. This work was considered sensible and practical, constructive and helpful, and “He adorned the doctrines he taught by the gentleness and grace of his character.”
On January 19th, 1865, J.M. was married in Wilkes County to Sarah Ida Callaway the daughter of William Reeves Callaway and Rhoda Ann Cheney Callaway. Mrs. Brittain was born near Washington, Wilkes County on land granted to her great-grandfather Colonel John S. Callaway in 1785 for his distinguished services at the Battle of Kings Mountain in the Revolutionary War. Colonel Callaway was an outstanding colonial figure, and a brother of Richard Callaway. Richard explored Kentucky with Daniel Boone, he was one of the three white men who first entered that state. Richard married Daniel Boone’s daughter. Also Callaway County, Kentucky was named for him. Mrs. Brittain was reared amidst the culture and refinement of the old south, and was a reigning belle of the days immediately following the War Between the States.
Their marriage was fruitful for they had four sons and one daughter. Their oldest son was Marion Luther who was born in Wilkes County on November 11th, 1865 and he later became State Superintendent of Schools as well as president of Georgia Institute of Technology. William Henry their second son was born in Cartersville in Bartow County, GA on March 25th, 1870. For many years he was an executive in the J.M. High Company of Atlanta. Charles Mercer their third son was born in Conyers, Rockdale County, GA. He became a Baptist preacher and was executive secretary of the Florida Baptist Assembly. The fourth son was Eugene Callaway who was born Jan. 1st, 1879 in Georgia. He was a graduate of Mercer University and a schoolteacher. Lillian was the only daughter.
J.M. Brittain desired to die in the harness, for he wanted to serve the Lord to the end of his days. His glorious master granted his desire. He left this world on February 11th, 1912. The Atlanta Constitution carried the following information on February 12th, 1912. The headline read,
BRITTAIN FOUND DEAD IN HIS BED
Pastor of the Temple Baptist Church Succumbs to Heart Failure
Dr. J.M. Brittain, pastor of the Temple Baptist church, was found dead in bed from heart failure yesterday morning at his home, 9 Orange Street.
He is survived by his wife, three sons, M.L. Brittain, state school Superintendent; W.H. Brittain, president and general manager of J.M. High Company, and Rev. C.M. Brittain, and one daughter, Mrs. Lillian Arnold. The funeral will be held this afternoon, at 3 o’clock, at the residence, Rev. John F. Purser and Dr. John E. White officiating, and the interment will be in West View. The deacons of the Temple Baptist church will act as pallbearers.
Pastor of Many Churches
Dr. Brittain was 69 years old. He had been pastor of the Temple church for three years, having lived in Atlanta for nine years, six of which he spent as pastor of the Central Baptist church. He had been pastor of churches in Eatonton, Ga., Barnesville, Covington, Conyers and Fort Valley, and was widely known all over the state.
Perhaps no greater tribute was ever paid this old Confederate than that given by Rev. A.C. Ward:
“A pall of sadness hangs over the Temple Baptist church because of the sudden death of the beloved pastor, Rev. J.M. Brittain, D.D., who was found dead in his bed Sunday morning. The ominous silence is only broken by the whisper ‘Our pastor is dead.’ The heartbroken members of the church, like a flock of sheep whose shepherd is not, are dazed and confused. With bowed heads they can only cry out in their despair, ‘Lord help us.’
“Dr. Brittain was loved as few men are loved. His sweet, gentle, Christ-like spirit was demonstrated in everything he said and did, and all who knew him loved him for what he really was.
“His life was an open book and while his field of labor was a very arduous one he was faithful to all his obligations in the work he undertook.
“He once expressed to the writer a desire to be permitted, ‘to die in the harness.’ Sometime between darkness of Saturday and daylight of Sunday the Lord gave him his desire. Innumerable sad hearers will recall the many loving words and kindly ministrations of Dr. Brittain, who through the long years has faithfully filled the office of teacher, preacher and pastor.
Truly a great man has fallen on sleep.”
These were very fitting words regarding the Lord’s servant. Yes, the end of the earthly sojourn had come to one of “Stonewall” Jackson’s men who served the Confederacy as a soldier in arms and then as a soldier of the cross. His mortal remains were buried in West View Cemetery in Atlanta to await the resurrection. And it could be said of Jabez Mercer Brittain as a Confederate Chaplain and as a Gospel Minister, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing” (2 Tim. 4:7-8).